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Richard Kuhns METAPHOR AS PLAUSIBLE INFERENCE IN POETRY AND PHILOSOPHY Do philosophy and poetry ever challenge and compete with one another? I shall attempt to answer the question through a case study, the challenge posed by Wallace Stevens's Notes Toward A Supreme Fiction 1 to the philosophical position of Descartes. I shall use as my Cartesian text the Meditations. When a poet challenges a philosopher we expect to find observations and arguments peculiar to this kind of confrontation, as contrasted with the way a philosopher challenges a philosopher, and the way a poet challenges a poet. One of the ways Stevens challenges Descartes is in the theory of analogy and metaphor Stevens puts forward. His theory enabled the poet to discover metaphors in the Meditations similar to those created by poets; the creator of fictions, works of the imagination built on metaphors, has a keen eye for fictive elements in philosophy. The poet makes us aware of forms of plausible inference that lie outside the logic textbooks; the poet reveals the role of metaphor in argument. When we return to the Meditations after reading the Notes, we see forms of inference whose plausibility rests on metaphoric and analogical relationships to which a poet may be more sensitive than a philosopher. On the other hand, when a poet enters into the domain of philosophical argument, he often uses the tradition with a flamboyance philosophers would call carelessness. To be sure, there are inconsistencies and confusions in Stevens's effort to deal poetically with philosophical argument; but I think he makes the point I want to investigate: that one function of fiction is argument; that one means of philosophical argument is metaphor. I If we look at the texts of the Notes and of the Meditations we can give comparative descriptions of how the activities of poetry and 225 226Philosophy and Literature philosophy differ. A philosopher meditates, a poet composes; a philosopher ponders, a poet propounds; a philosopher sits alone, silent, in his room; a poet sits with a friend spinning a tale, and sounds tones simply to hear them reverberate. ("Notes" is a proper name for written bits and sounded tones that can, if harmonious, combine into larger wholes.) Meditations are silently entertained in the mind; notes are said, struck, sung, jotted. Meditations are musings within; notes are externalized . The philosopher sits before a fire fingering a sample bit of the external world—smells, sounds, sights, and textures of the originals which he has excluded by his retreat. The poet talks to the world and listens to its replies. The Meditations of Descartes are Meditations on First Philosophy, In Which the Existence of God and The Distinction in Man of Soul and Body are Demonstrated. First Philosophy has to do with being, cause, God, nature, human beings, possibility, knowledge. In meditating on all these matters, Descartes assumes that the conditions for belief in a supreme being is the fundamental inquiry. The Notes, in contrast, is both lecture notes and notebook scribble, fragmentary, impressionistic, schematic, awaiting the response of the listener. In making the Notes Stevens assumes the conditions for belief in a supremefiction is the ultimate inquiry. The Meditations is constructed to persuade the multitude, and, if necessary, to coerce them to embrace the truth. The Notes engenders the love felt in "a vivid transparence." II The linguistic arts and philosophy stand in many different relationships to one another. Among them are the relationships of referring, representing, mirroring, quoting, making variations upon, and alluding to. I have added to those the relationship of argumentative challenge, a relationship almost neglected in modern poetics, though common in the ancient world. Modern poetry has returned to that relationship in the Notes which refers to explicitly, and challenges, the Meditations. The first idea was not our own. Adam In Eden was the father of Descartes (CP, p. 383) The reference to Adam and Descartes implies that Adam was the only person whose mind was unsullied by prior beliefs. Adam could carry out the Cartesian doubt, for he had to fill in his beliefs one by one, Richard Kuhns227 and did not have to undo old beliefs. Only he could accomplish the prescribed Cartesian exercise...

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Additional Information

ISSN
1086-329X
Print ISSN
0190-0013
Pages
pp. 225-238
Launched on MUSE
2011-10-05
Open Access
No
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